by Neil Nisbet

On Friday 25th October 2002 Rosas, the contemporary dance company lead by Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker, arrives in Newcastle to perform a single work from an extensive repertoire; ‘Drumming’ featuring music by Steve Reich, at Newcastle Playhouse.

Newcastle is just the latest leg on a very long and exhausting tour for the company which covers several different countries around the world and 50 different venues. The company are touring the UK under the Dance Umbrella banner having recently performed at the annual festival in London.

From Newcastle the company will travel north to Glasgow’s Theatre Royal on the 27th and then to Coventry’s Warwick Arts Centre on the 29th. Dancer Ursula Rob, a New Zealander, took time out of the company’s hectic schedule to give Article19 a brief interview.

Tell us a little bit about Drumming?

Well, Drumming premiered in 1998 and has become very popular, it’s based on a very small phrase of movement that is about 5 minutes in length but we have really dissected it. As dancers we do a phrase going forward , backwards and then we do it incredibly slowly at moments.

We play on that phrase and make duets and quartets out of it, so it comes from a very simple idea. On top of that there are spirals on the set, the set is made up of spirals and stars which are not necessarily that obvious to the viewer but its how we do the patterns.

So it is all about starting small and then going outwards. The phrase initially came from another piece that we had done just before this which was a 3 hour show. Anna Teresa took this phrase of movement out of that show and built an entirely new show from just a small phrase of movement. It has been quite a challenge to see what we can find out of it.

Are the dancers involved in the creative process?

Well yes and no. In this instance, and it depends on what show we are doing, for Drumming she [Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker] provided the base frame of movement, we learned from her and then what we did was transform it and interpret it in our own way.

If you are doing a duet with someone it’s really about giving your own input and your own ideas and she will often take a phrase and place it in the piece, or perhaps it won’t fit so you won’t be able to put everything in. But she will just take what is being offered and then place it somehow so it is a very big part of our work to be involved in the creative process.

How does working with Rosas compare to the work you have done previously with Douglas Wright and Wim Vendekeybuss?

With Douglas you could say it was much more about him providing everything, we really learned everything from him right down to the last detail. With Wim it was the total opposite, he didn’t provide any of the [movement]. He would really direct and provide inspiration and we would come up with all of the movement. With Douglas and Wim it was much more gymnastic and daring and kind of physically scary!

Whereas with Rosas it's a lot more, particularly with this piece, it’s very clean and ordered. It’s very structured but then there is emotion put on top of that which sort of blows away the clinical nature of it. There’s emotion in it. I think the structure is just so tight that on top of that you get a sense of emotion; it’s not like a story at all though.

But you really have too see it [the work] to see what I mean. It builds up to a real crescendo but compared to working with Wim where I ended up wih a couple of broken bones it is a very different thing.

How does your experience of dance in New Zealand compare to your experience in Europe?

That’s a good question actually! I left new Zealand about 8 years ago and at that time, and it’s hard to know what’s happened, whether it is following the same lines as what we are doing in Europe now. But I would say that in New Zealand when I left you could say that [the work] was quite angst driven, contemporary, modern dance, it was quite deep.

But when you come to Europe you sort of didn’t have to involve yourself emotionally so much. I mean, you didn’t have to rip yourself apart. It was really a pleasure to be able to dance for the sake of dancing. Just finding pleasure in steps and movement and different ways of moving. I would say that there is an element of sophistication in European contemporary dance. New Zealand has a naivety perhaps which is really special for New Zealand and Australia also I think.

I don’t want to make that sound condescending because I totally adore what is happening in New Zealand. There is a difference but it is quite hard to put your finger on what it is. I feel like it is more detached here somehow. I would love to return to New Zealand and work with Douglas again or Shona McCulloch.

How do manage both physically and mentally with the rigours of such an extensive tour?

It’s really hard work. The worst thing I think is actually finding good food in places. We are always really well looked after. We have good hotels; a lot of space to ourselves but like today was a six hour trip.

You really have to take the time to be alone when you are on tour with a group of people and you’re living in each others pockets. Fortunately we are a really harmonious group although it’s not always like that. After you have been doing it for a few years you just search for those moments when you can take yourself away and read your book.

I mean we do lot’s together and we try to go out for meals together and keep a good dynamic between everyone. There is also a lot of shopping therapy and trying to keep other interests is very important.

To book tickets call Newcastle Playhouse on 0191 231 5151. The company tour to Glasgow Theatre Royal 0141 332 9000 and then to Coventry Warwick Arts Centre on 024 7652 4524.